Author Archives: johnnyunger

subtext 192 – ‘strike while the subtext is hot’

Every so often during term time.
Letters, contributions, & comments: subtext-editors@lancaster.ac.uk
Back issues & subscription details: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/about/
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EDITORIAL
‘Ultimately our aim is to protect our community’s wellbeing and our collegiate values,’ states the Director of HR in his email to all staff today, setting out the University’s official position on the UCU strike which begins tomorrow. The acting Vice-Chancellor made similar noises in his email on 5 February: ‘We are committed to being a good and fair employer in rewarding you for the work that you do, enabling you to achieve a good work/life balance and supporting your wellbeing.’
This picture of a hilltop vigil contrasts jarringly with a recent open letter on bullying and victimisation at Lancaster, signed by over 400 students, staff, alumni and trade unionists, and handed to the acting Vice-Chancellor in person on 12 February:
‘We are appalled that the University is facing an Employment Tribunal hearing for the trade union victimisation of Dr Julie Hearn, President of UCU’s Lancaster branch. […] The intimidation and bullying of workers and trade unionists at Lancaster University is endemic.’
The acting Vice-Chancellor has promised to read the letter. UCU gave some background to the claims in an email to its members on 5 February:
‘Last year Lancaster UCU has brought three cases against a manager, including a collective grievance case involving 14 members of staff, resulting in two individual settlements. Despite our warnings to the employer since 15 September 2019 that Julie, as president of Lancaster UCU branch has been left open to reprisals and is experiencing detriment on a daily basis, the employer has failed in their statutory duty to protect her, and consequently Julie has been signed off with work-related stress. She is thus unable to carry out her role as branch president and HEC member at a crucial point in two national disputes. We now have an employment tribunal claim for trade union victimisation against the employer, with the preliminary hearing on 28 Feb.’
We hope this matter can reach a settlement before the tribunal hearing. For many of our staff, it will clearly be some time before they trust their employer to protect their wellbeing.
See you on the picket line.

A TALE OF TWO UNION MEETINGS

Impending strike action was the sole subject of discussion at what were otherwise two very different Lancaster UCU General Meetings, one on 22 January and the other on 18 February. Both were relatively well-attended – the January one looked packed because it was in the cosy Marcus Merriman Lecture Theatre, while the February one looked sparsely attended because it was in the cavernous (and freezing cold!) County South Lecture Theatre, but in truth there were probably around 60 attendees at each.
Members at the January meeting, held when the 14 days of action had been proposed but not agreed to, were worried and apprehensive. Despite an upbeat introduction by local UCU President Julie Hearn, suggesting we ‘look over the ocean’ at France, where a general strike seemed imminent, the majority of speakers advised caution. One thought this seemed the wrong time to take further action; another was worried that members were being asked to ‘go back out’ after no visible progress; another flatly suggested that the union’s tactics had failed. Those backing 14 days felt we currently had the momentum – and if we didn’t act now, there was no guarantee we’d reach the 50% threshold again. It was not logical to say, ‘we’ve not achieved much, so we shouldn’t go back out on strike!’
The meeting had officially been called to gauge opinions, and a motion supporting the planned strike action had been proposed, but it was agreed by everyone present that a vote was not appropriate (subtext’s view is that it would probably have fallen). One member perhaps summed up the majority: ‘no one is saying, don’t take strike action. We want to take strike action – but we don’t want to take 14 days’ strike action.’
The January meeting agreed to invite one of the national negotiators up to speak to a future meeting – a very wise decision, in retrospect, because the February meeting, with national pay and conditions negotiator Robyn Orfitelli (University of Sheffield) as lead speaker, was a much more optimistic affair.
Despite spending nearly four hours to travel from Sheffield to Lancaster by train, Dr Orfitelli was upbeat – about what the negotiators had already achieved on pay and conditions, and why she thought we needed to take further action. After a long period of silence, the employers had written to the unions in the last few days, with strike action imminent, asking for a meeting – a tactic they’d used just before the last strike, when talks started on the second strike day. ‘A lot of progress has been made’ in those talks, she reported, but not enough.
The unions want a negotiating framework for working conditions. UK-wide principles should be agreed as the ‘bottom line’, following which there should be locally-negotiated implementation of these principles. UCEA, the employers’ pay negotiators, offered some ‘principles on precarity’ and a commitment to information gathering, but there was still no progress on a sector-wide response to the workload crisis or – of course – on the headline pay offer. All of the ‘four fights’ were, at their core, equality issues. Universities were making financial choices which devalue their staff and students.
There were plenty of questions.
– ‘What’s the plan if the employer just sits this out?’ ‘I don’t think they will,’ replied Dr Orfitelli, adding that, when UCU members want us to stop taking action, they will tell us.
– What incentive do employers have to settle in one dispute, given we’d still be on strike due to the other dispute? Dr Orfitelli believed that, the instant that one of the two (UCEA for pay, Universities UK for pensions) breaks, the pressure ramps up on the other. These organisations are all ‘literally down the hall from each other.’
– Could reducing the number of fixed-term staff have the unintended consequence of placing more indefinite staff at risk, due to larger redundancy pools? Dr Orfitelli noted that campaigning was often like playing Whack-a-Mole.
– On pensions, Dr Orfitelli reported that employers had recently been reconsulted, and many are unwilling to take on extra contributions. Reports of ‘111 USS employers’ presumably means that each Oxbridge college is being counted as a separate institution. To get a resolution, we either need to get USS to fundamentally change, or get Universities UK to temporarily take on additional contributions. The Joint Expert Panel (JEP) was ‘over’ – it had delivered both of its reports, and its members were not directly involved in negotiations.
– Were there disagreements between the pay negotiators and the General Secretary? Both had sent emails to members, with different takes on the dispute, at almost exactly the same time! Apparently, there was no disagreement, just a ‘slightly different tone.’ The negotiators were concerned that members did not have access to them and their thoughts, and they were unaware that the General Secretary would be writing to members that day.
– If there was movement on job insecurity but zero movement on pay, would the negotiators recommend that members be balloted on the deal? ‘We’re not ruling anything out.’
– And the most unsympathetic VC? Birmingham, apparently!
At one point Dr Orfitelli floated the idea of a REF, TEF and KEF boycott, which was met with a round of applause.
The meeting ended with thanks for Dr Orfitelli. Four hours on Transpennine Express well spent!

CASUALISATION NEWS

Casual readers may be forgiven for thinking that subtext’s drones are embittered cynics whose philosophy can be summed up as ‘D Floor bad, HR enablers of bad’. In an effort to challenge this notion, here’s a vote of thanks for the new ‘Fixed-term Contracts and Casual Working Policy and Procedure’, drafted by a working group involving the campus unions and approved by the Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee (JNCC) on 4 November 2019. It isn’t easy to find online, and hasn’t yet been put on HR’s page of policies and procedures, but can be accessed on the intranet here:
The Director of HR comments that the new policy ‘underlines our commitment to making sure staff feel secure and supported at this university.’ It’s been lauded in the House of Commons by Cat Smith MP, who invited the Minister of State for Universities and Science to ‘join me in welcoming the changes at Lancaster University’ (Commons Hansard, 20 January 2020). In short:
1) Fixed-term contracts will only be used in these circumstances: cover for temporary staff absence; cover for one-off peaks in demand; recognised and time-limited training programmes; and if a staff member requests it (the latter includes situations where an external funder stipulates that their funding is conditional on the position being fixed-term).
2) ‘All staff currently employed on fixed-term contracts will be automatically moved onto indefinite contracts,’ unless their role falls into one of these four cases.
3) Casual (in other words hourly-paid) contracts will only be used in these circumstances: very short term roles up to 12 weeks in duration; and ad hoc roles with no regular pattern of work and no obligation between the parties to offer or accept work (i.e. zero-hour contracts).
The unions offered particular praise to HR Service Delivery Manager Matt Ireland for overseeing the drafting and approval process. All in all, a good news story…
…except that doubts are now setting in amongst union activists regarding HR’s commitment to implementing it. Mr Ireland has now left Lancaster to work for an NHS Trust in East Lancashire.
Let’s look at the current list of vacancies. Among them is an advert for a Business Analyst in Admissions and Outreach (ref N2348), who ‘will focus on the implementation of a new postgraduate admissions system.’ This is ‘a fixed term role, initially until 31st October 2020.’ There’s also a role as Business Relationship Officer for the Lancashire Cyber Foundry (ref N2347), part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, which seeks to develop ‘a unique business support programme for small to medium enterprise businesses across a range of industrial sectors.’ This is ‘a fixed term post until 30 September 2022’ – note that, according to the new policy, ‘time-limited funding, in itself, will not be justification to place an individual on a fixed-term contract.’ Maybe you’d like to be a Disability Advisor (ref N2338), leading on ‘support for disabled students on the new Frontline postgraduate Social Work programme.’ This is ‘a two year fixed term appointment.’
Have recruiting managers just not got the memo, or has the memo not been sent in the first place?
What about those currently on fixed-term contracts – can they expect to receive letters confirming their indefinite status any day now? It seems unlikely: HR’s page on ‘ending fixed-term contracts’ has not been updated since March 2019 and still claims that, ‘if you wish to extend a fixed-term contract, you need to submit a Manager Request using Core MyHR. Alternatively, a request to Transfer to Indefinite Contract can be made. If managers are awaiting authorisation so that further employment can be offered it is strongly advised that a case for redundancy is made in parallel as a precautionary measure. Any such proposal can be withdrawn once authorisation has been received.’
It may, then, be some time before Lancaster is, to quote the policy, ‘using indefinite contractual arrangements wherever possible and reducing the use of fixed-term and casual arrangements.’ But the policy is there – subtext would be interested to hear any evidence of it actually being used.

PREVIEW – LANCASTER EXCHANGE II

The second annual Lancaster Exchange, the replacement for our much-missed University Court, will be on Thursday 12 March 2020 in Lancaster Town Hall, from 5pm until 8pm.
subtext was optimistic after the first Lancaster Exchange, concluding that ‘it was more like a pilot episode than an experiment, but if management really publicises next year’s meeting, makes the topics for discussion a little less boilerplate, and involves the students a lot more, it could be really very good indeed’ (see subtext 187). How are preparations for Lancaster Exchange II going?
According to the draft agenda, the first subject will be Eden Project North, after which ‘we will be exploring the University’s role in contributing to the development of the region as a healthy, prosperous and sustainable place.’ Important topics, true, but arguably more boilerplate than a plumbing convention.
Publicity seems better than last year; 2019’s attendees have been emailed with an invitation and the event even has a website:
The local Chamber of Commerce and Business Improvement District are promoting the event; the Exchange is clearly seen as a good way to ‘engage with the local community.’
Unfortunately, calling the meeting for a Thursday night has put the kibosh on alumni attending in significant numbers, and the event isn’t even currently listed as an event on the University’s alumni page. Many students and staff will still be in lectures and seminars at that time – and even those lucky enough to finish by 5pm are unlikely to be attracted by an immediate three-hour meeting in town. It’s a shame this problem wasn’t noted at the planning stage.
Oh, except…
…they’ve called the event during the strike! Any students and academic staff looking for a constructive way to raise their concerns with management, in a comfortable city-centre setting, now have the perfect opportunity to do so – just head to the Eventbrite page and reserve your place, before it’s too late:
Suddenly the event is looking a lot more exciting than at first glance.

STUDENT DEMOCRACY UPDATE

Back in December 2018, subtext 184 reported on the Students’ Union’s unsuccessful referendum to change the make-up of its Full-Time Officer (FTO) team – a narrow majority voted ‘yes’ to the changes (yes 438, no 396, abstain 58), but the turnout failed to clear the 10% threshold needed for the decision to be binding. We speculated that the changes would be ‘rapidly booted into the long grass.’ We were wrong.
One of the leaders of the ‘no’ campaign back in 2018 was George Nuttall, now the Students’ Union President. The current FTOs have clearly learned from their experiences in 2018: if you want to make contentious changes, don’t ask the students to endorse them, just ram them through!
Thus it was that in January 2020, a new proposal to change the make-up of the FTO team was passed, by a vote of the Students’ Union Executive Committee (yes 7, no 5, abstain 1), without calling a referendum at all:
Well there we are.

GO AWAY, OLDIES

subtext’s recent reports on the removal of IT and email access from hundreds of former staff members (see subtexts 190 and 191) continue to provoke the ire of readers (see letters, below). One subtext correspondent, a life member of the university, recalls their correspondence with the Director of ISS last summer. The Director clarified that formal membership rights, as determined by the Charter and Statutes, do not include any right to access IT services, even though the University has offered this to continuing members in the past. When the Council discussed this issue in 2015 (see subtext 128), it noted that IT provision for continuing members would be reviewed over time; UMAG duly reviewed this provision in August 2019 and resolved that, henceforth, IT access would be offered to continuing members on the same basis as it is offered to other staff leavers, i.e. it would only be provided when the relevant Head of Department confirmed that the member was continuing to work and contribute to the University. Most continuing members no longer have a formal contract with the University – hence no IT services will be offered.
Some good news: after much effort, our correspondent was finally granted an appeal to the Pro-Chancellor, and it has now been agreed to extend their IT access for at least another year, subject to the condition that they continue to publish. This is still far short of the lifetime access which all continuing members thought they were being given, but it shows that persistence pays off.

GENDER STEREOTYPING MASTERCLASS

‘Our emails display our brand just like a letterhead or a business card,’ noted a news item on 14 February, launching Lancaster’s new email signature template files:
Four templates are provided at:
There’s plenty of advice and guidance: email signatures need to be useful, lawful and, of course, accessible to screen readers. Moreover, ‘Lancaster University is an inclusive place to work and learn and therefore, we would encourage people to include their gender pronouns on their email signature.’
Righty-ho. Let’s look at this template text, then:
Jo Bloggs | Postgraduate Programmes Officer
Linguistics and English Language | Lancaster University
Pronouns: He/Him/His
Working hours: Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays 9am to 4pm
Personal Assistant: Ms Jane Bloggs: j.bloggs@lancaster.ac.uk
Excellent, so we have Mr Jo Bloggs the officer and his loyal personal assistant, Ms Jane Bloggs. That Athena SWAN renewal’s going to be a doddle, eh?
And yes, we know that equality is about a lot more than email templates. We’re sure that the imminent equal pay audit will show how much the Gender Pay Gap at Lancaster is closing, given the institution’s work to actively improve it.

BUILDINGS NEWS

Congratulations to the Department of Engineering, which on 12 February announced details of major investment by the University, including another new building, next to the previous new building, featuring a ‘3D lecture theatre’  (the third dimension makes all the difference, we hear) and several new labs:
Some might wonder whether a truly far-sighted organisation would have predicted the need for a large dedicated lecture theatre back in 2013, when the soon-to-be-old new Engineering Building was being constructed, but hindsight is 20:20.
One thing the new building will need is a name – it was confusing enough when there was the old Engineering Building (now known as the FST Building, despite our attempts to give it a more exciting name in subtext 130) and the new Engineering Building, but now there will be two new Engineering Buildings, one of them is going to need a suitably well-engineered title – we’ll pass on any suggestions we receive.

FEARLESSLY SPINELESS

Readers feeling starved of information due to subtext’s relative infrequency these days (the more contributions and contributors we get, the more issues we’ll put out – don’t be shy!) can sate their hunger by visiting Spineless (https://spineless.uk/), an online publication in the tradition of Lancaster’s radical past, full of news, gossip and opinion, written by an anonymous (ish) collective of Lancaster students.
In the last three weeks they’ve published items on campus bullying (including a revealing interview with the acting VC), the strike, developments at Caton Court (see subtext 190) and the increasingly rancorous debate on LUSU democracy. subtext doesn’t necessarily endorse all they say, nor how they choose to say it, but what they do say is usually at least interesting and it’s always nice to have some fellow muckrakers about.
By the way: whatever has happened to SCAN? The copies currently available are still talking about ‘general election fever’.

LANCASTER DEBATES THE FUTURE OF UNIVERSITIES (AND TRIES TO SELL A FEW BOOKS)

Contributed by Megan Marxel
A full room, including many recognisable as dedicated subtext readers, attended the book launch for ‘The University Challenge’ on Monday 3 February, hosted by the Institute for Social Futures. This wide-reaching book on the challenges facing (Anglo) universities was a collaboration between Prof Ed Byrne (VC of King’s College London) and Charles Clarke (former MP, former Home and Education Secretaries, Visiting Professor to Lancaster PPR, graduate of Highgate School [est 1565], Cantab, former President of the Cambridge Students Union and of the National Union of Students). I was impressed by this biography and was curious about what he had to say. But what stands out most in my memory of Mr Clarke is that he looked very bored, especially considering that this was his party.
I didn’t actually make it to the book launch itself (I was teaching), but that was just as well. I was far more interested in the panel discussion that followed. Pro-VC for Engagement Sue Black led a panel discussion on ‘What’s Wrong with Universities and How Do We Fix It?’. As the discussion was only an hour and a half long, we barely even scratched the surface.
Sue started by, somewhat defensively, clarifying that she had not set the discussion topic, which assumes that something is actively wrong with our universities. On the eve of more strikes across 74 universities, her caveat was, at best, disingenuous. She then warned the audience to avoid being ‘too strident’ in expressing our views. Her pre-emptive tone was perhaps understandable though, as Charles Clarke is the man responsible for introducing the university fees that have since gone on to indebt millions of British students.
The panel members each had 5 minutes to reflect on challenges facing universities. Little surprise, these were fairly unmemorable, generic statements about ‘collaborating more’ and ‘better clarifying mission statements’. There were a few exceptions, including when Prof Byrne argued that universities were making active choices to either serve as ‘engines of equality or engines of inequality’. Another exception was Dr Shuruq Naguib, Lecturer in Islamic Studies, who described the findings of over 1,000 interviews with British university students that highlighted the need to meaningfully tackle endemic Islamophobia across our future universities.
Despite these spikes of interest, something felt odd about the panel’s overall response to the prompt: not one person mentioned the plague of managerialism, the tragedy of student debt, relentless growth, the burdens of industrial action, or the risks of instrumentalism. Their polite skirting of the larger issues provoked a knowing sigh, ‘Ah, this is what is wrong with English universities.’
The audience’s questions were rectifying, perhaps because they included impassioned interventions from members of the Lancaster UCU Executive. Particularly memorable was an emotive question about the panel’s recurrent use of the personal pronoun, ‘we’. If ‘we’ are collectively responsible for defining the future of universities, then why do most staff and students feel so disempowered? Prof Byrne responded by highlighting a range of encouragingly democratising initiatives being undertaken at King’s College that left me envious. If true, the trajectories of Kings and Lancaster could not look more different.
Nevertheless, the panel discussion began to open up the types of honest, public debate that Lancaster so badly needs. Even if it comes under the guise of book sales, these conversations must form part of how we begin to fix the many things wrong with our universities.
Near the end of the event, a student was invited to ask a question. Unfortunately, he uttered the word ‘marketisation’. This clearly ruffled Mr Clarke, who retorted that he ‘did not quite understand what is meant by terms like marketisation, commercialisation and neoliberalisation in Higher Education’. I ended my evening by shaking his hand and offering to explain these concepts to him. He declined.

WIDDEN’S REVIEW – PIANO QUARTET CONCERT IN THE GREAT HALL

Contributed by Martin Widden
This concert on 30 January 2020 was given by a quartet of violin, viola, cello and piano – a fairly unusual combination, because the modern concert grand can easily drown out the three strings. But Mozart, that brilliant pioneer in all things musical, wrote three works for this combination, and of course he set a very high standard for everyone who followed in his footsteps. Even though the modern grand piano is far more powerful than the pianos of Mozart’s day, he wrote in such a way that (in the hands of skilled performers) the strings always seem to be equals of the keyboard instrument.
Not only were the three Mozart piano quartets object lessons in how to write for this group of instruments – they are also marvellous pieces of music. So it was entirely appropriate that this concert opened with a Mozart piano quartet, K 493 in E flat. It formed a highly satisfying beginning.
The second item in the programme was a piano quartet by the Latvian composer Peteris Vasks. Vasks was born in Aizpute in 1946 into a Baptist family. At that time Latvia lay behind the Iron Curtain, and his Baptist faith prevented him from studying composition as he wished. He therefore moved to neighbouring Lithuania, where he was able to study at the conservatorium in Vilnius. Since the Iron Curtain was lifted in 1991, he has been able to travel and work elsewhere, and has followed a mildly international career, working in Sweden, Austria, Estonia and (surprisingly) Wales, where he was composer-in-residence at the Presteigne Festival in 2006.
His music is sometimes considered minimalist, and is compared with the works of Penderecki, Lutoslawski, Arvo Pärt and George Crumb. The quartet is skilfully written and was remarkably well played, since the performers had had rather limited time for rehearsal. However, its duration of some 40 minutes didn’t seem totally justified by the rather repetitive material.
The concert finished with the Opus 25 quartet by Brahms, written when Brahms was reaching the height of his powers. All four movements of this quartet are wonderful music, but possibly the final movement, a gipsy rondo, is the most outstanding. It finishes with a fast section marked presto, which is very exciting music, to which it is easy to imagine dancing taking place in an increasing frenzy.
The three string players, who have taken the name Moricosta Trio, are all members of the BBC Philharmonic, so they are used to playing together; and Martin Roscoe is a well-loved pianist who lives locally. They played together remarkably well, and this was a very satisfying evening.

PENGUINS, A FIRE AND A NASTY CASE OF HYPOTHERMIA

Contributed article
As a diligent and (short of annual leave) member of University staff I dutifully made the first-day-after-Christmas pilgrimage to our office in University House on 2nd January. Following the many complaints over previous years I arrived confident that the building would be toasty-warm. How wrong I was. Entering University House was akin to walking into a four-storey freezer.
Arriving at my desk I elected to keep my coat and scarf on. The radiator was stone cold and, as individual fan heaters were banned some time ago, I resigned myself to making the best of it. Jogging on the spot was the thing. Jogging, however, makes it very difficult to work, so after two minutes I sat down.
A short while later a polar bear, which had taken up residence during the break, appeared at the door and demanded that I surrender my coat to him. For a moment I contemplated resisting his request, but he gave me an unfriendly smile and off he went with my coat.
After fifteen minutes waiting for my PC to process essential updates my fingers were numb. I wrapped my scarf around them, but soon discovered this made typing difficult and resulted in my first email being somewhat ruder than I had intended. I was still debating what to do (send emails full of verbal garbage or risk frostbite in my fingers), when I was interrupted by voices. Poking my head around the office door I noted three penguins deep in conversation with the polar bear. There was some gesticulation with flippers and glances in my direction. I retreated to my desk and had barely begun wondering what was going on when the penguins appeared beside me.
‘We want the scarf.’
‘I’m sorry?’
‘Your scarf, we want it. Don’t be difficult or this could get ugly.’
‘Erm…’
‘Right. Grab him lads.’
Ever been slapped by a penguin flipper? It hurts. As the penguins waddled off with the scarf a figure wrapped in furs stumped past. Followed by a sled and a miserable-looking camera crew.
‘Mmmph mmph mm bfff.’
The camera crew looked at each other, nonplussed. The fur-clad figure pulled the covering away from the lower half of his face, and Sir Ranulph Fiennes indicated the corner of the office:
‘Set the fire over there. By that Yucca. Be quick about it or we’ll freeze.’
Stolidly refusing to be distracted further I returned to my PC. By this point my legs were numb and thinking was becoming difficult. Why was Sir Ranulph Fiennes in our office? Andrea was not going to be very pleased if they started a fire next to her Yucca. Maybe I’d be warmer if I had a little lie down.
I woke in the ambulance at around midday. The crew told me it had been a close thing, hypothermia being generally bad for you. Ah. I must have been hallucinating.
‘We found your coat and scarf. Why on earth weren’t you wearing them?’ The ambulance crewman looked concerned.
‘I have no idea, but I had a very odd dream about them…’
‘Think your boss also wants to speak to you urgently about some odd scorch marks in your office.’
The moral of the story? A plea to Facilities. Next year could you turn on the heating just a little earlier? I cannot otherwise be held responsible for my actions.

LETTERS

Dear subtext,
Claire Geddes, the former CEO of LUSU, was seconded to work on ‘strategic projects’ for barely a week before her name appeared on the LU website in another capacity: she is now the University’s Head of Governance Services, overseeing Information Governance (e.g. FoI) and the University’s own internal structures. She has gone from directing the absolute and total failure of democracy in the Students’ Union to overseeing the travesty of democracy in the University. A wise hire for those who wish to consolidate power in UMAG.
Yours faithfully,
Andrew Williams
***
Dear subtext,
My first fixed-term casual research work for Lancaster was in 1991, just after getting my degree and graduating with £100 in my bank account (thanks, funded education!). I worked for 6 weeks at £100/week, minus the 25% emergency tax rate, leaving me with the unimaginable riches of £75/week. I had moved into a vacant room in a student house on Westbourne Road, paying ‘half-rent’ at £12.50/week (thanks, no ‘buy-to-rent’ inflation!). I digress (it happens as you approach 50, apparently). Over the next 28 and a bit years, I worked on and off for Lancaster on fixed-term contracts doing research on matters relating to the environmental crisis, with some major gaps in my work history thanks to jumping on diggers and squatting and sitting up trees ‘In Defence Of Mother Earth’ (how quaint and old-fashioned/scarily prescient!). I didn’t do teaching, and therefore, the possibility of a permanent contract was for nearly three decades an idle dream.
Imagine the hilarity when 13 days after finishing another contract and for the first time becoming an employee of another University (Leeds), the University announced its change of policy on fixed-term contracts, announcing that permanent contracts would be offered wherever possible, and this would even apply to funding-tied contracts such as those I had been on for the entire period we had to avert climate change (ah, those sweet bygone times!). It was almost as funny as when I took my one trans-Atlantic flight to a conference where I was presenting on the environmental impacts of everyday travel, and attending a session on the environmental impacts of academic conferences, and the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted and grounded all flights in the Northern Hemisphere, stranding me in the Belly of the Beast (Washington DC).
Yours precariously,
Dr Noel Cass
***
Dear subtext,
You report in recent issues of subtext that the decision to withdraw University e-mail accounts from retired members of staff was designed to save the University money. I fear that the reverse will be the case when retired/retiring members of staff who in appreciation of their links with the University have named it as a beneficiary in their wills will be seriously contemplating removing such legacies as they no longer feel the attachment to the University which once they enjoyed. Likewise, retired members who contribute generously to the Chancellor’s Guild and other University appeals will no doubt be thinking twice about contributing to these good causes in the future.
Is it too late to ask the Director of Information Systems Services to review this damaging decision in the light of the serious financial damage (and significant loss of goodwill) it will cause to the University and to restore e-mail access to those from whom it has been, or is to be, withdrawn?
Best wishes, and keep up the good work.
Name supplied
***
Dear subtext,
No email account, no access to numerous academic resources. Rather an exaggeration, perhaps, but ‘cheap’ cancellation makes life unnecessarily difficult.
Best wishes,
Paul Heelas
***
Dear subtext,
Which tense has been used in ‘…be they sat…’? (subtext 191, editorial)
Gerry Steele

subtext 191 – ‘fresh from the fridge’

Every so often during term time.
Letters, contributions, & comments: subtext-editors@lancaster.ac.uk
Back issues & subscription details: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/about/
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EDITORIAL
A new dawn has risen on a new day and a new government. Our next chance to change things in Westminster will probably be in 2025. Shall we just go back to bed?
The need for a university which challenges the marketisation of education, defends its international community and champions free speech has never been more important, but as subtext has reported in issue after issue, our management has been merrily pursuing exactly the opposite strategy for years. Our governing bodies show little or no knowledge of the issues which make our students and staff feel less and less welcome – and our students and staff have little or no knowledge of what our governing bodies do in our names.
There are, however, some reasons to be cheerful. Our students have finally realised that a students’ union governed by unaccountable appointed trustees and advised by ‘student juries’ is no way to represent their interests. The results of two referenda in Week 8, one on the proposed sale of the Sugarhouse (see subtext 190) and one on how many trustees should be elected, showed emphatic opposition to the former and widespread support for electing the majority of the latter. The trustees have decided this week to abandon the Sugarhouse sale – ‘you voted, we listened’ says a LUSU press release, which raises the question of just why the trustees had the discretion to not listen in the first place. Meanwhile, our UCU staff have recently taken strike action, with significant support from students and other campus unions.

This is no time to lessen the pressure on those in power, be they sat in University House or Westminster. If the last ten are any indication, the next five years will be dark. The most vulnerable amongst us – the disabled, those from overseas, the sick – will be bearing the brunt of it. It may be tempting to give up, but if we don’t fight now – when?

RETURN OF THE ANGRY DUCKS

It was pure picket line déjà vu. Not just the buses and cars queuing on the main drive, trying to avoid running anyone over. Not just the hand-made banners and placards, the angry ducks and the picket discos. No, what most made it seem like February 2018 all over again was that staff had downed tools (or keyboards, in most cases) for pretty much the exact same reason as before: to protest against higher pension contributions, after employers refused to fully implement the recommendations of the Joint Expert Panel convened after the last strikes.
There were some differences this time around, however. Rather than just being about pensions, this was the first industrial action at Lancaster over pay and conditions for quite some time – no doubt helped by the focus on workload and equality (in particular Lancaster’s massive gender pay gap). Unlike last time, this strike seems to have enjoyed widespread student support, including from the previously rather apolitical Students’ Union. Successively more senior managers visited the picket lines to chat with the unwashed masses. When the interim VC eventually found his way there, he faced some difficult questions, but was not subjected to quite as thorough a grilling via megaphone as the previous incumbent (see subtext 175).

Rather than striking for an increasing number of days each week spread over a month, this strike was a contiguous period of eight working days. UCU activists were said to be split over the purpose of this different pattern, with some claiming that the current structure was not conducive to negotiation. And in fact, on a national level, there seems to have been very little movement by employers. It seems likely at this point that the pickets will return in the new year, ducks and all.

ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST?

In classic Parliamentary style, MPs are not technically allowed to resign their seats. A member who, say, wants to retreat into a shed to write a self-congratulatory memoir after calling a disastrous referendum in a misguided attempt to unify their party is instead said to have ‘taken the Chiltern Hundreds’, accepting the role of Crown Steward and Bailiff of an ancient region (or manor) that no longer exists. The role has no responsibilities and provides no benefit to the holder.
On an unrelated note, news reaches us that LUSU CEO Claire Geddes has stepped down from her role and is now ‘working on a strategic project for the university on secondment’, according to a brief LUSU press release. The LU intranet contains no mention of this, and the University declined to comment when asked by SCAN.
SCAN has characterised Ms Geddes as yet another casualty of the recent Sugarhouse sale affair (see article ‘Sugar Plot Timeline’, Week 9 issue), a list that so far includes the former LUSU VP (Activities) and a number of Trustees. We can neither prove nor disprove a connection, but we note that the timing of the announcement and the silence from the University might lead one to wonder.

We wish Ms Geddes all the best in her stewardship of what will surely prove to be a very exciting, albeit vague, ‘strategic project’.

ARE YOU STILL HERE?

Our last issue recounted the University’s decision to remove the email accounts of hundreds of retired staff on a cost-benefit analysis that determined that they were no longer worth the expense. Since then, we’ve heard from a further six readers: all retired members of staff; all dedicated supporters of the university; and all cheesed-off at having been told to Foxtrot Oscar by the organisation to which many of them have dedicated over half of their lives. In a letter to subtext, Gerry Cotter observes that, even as it tells its former members to go away, the University manages to add an extra helping of unpleasantness. Another reader notes that ‘the excuse this time seems to be a change of Microsoft site licensing, when it was only last year that we were all forced to move to Microsoft!’

The most frustrating aspect of this, of course, is the lack of any serious recourse. When, in 2015, University Council discussed removing privileges from retired members (see subtext 128), at least the matter was being discussed at senior committee level. This decision seems to have just happened, as a way to balance the books, with no approval needed. How many of today’s Council members are even aware of the issue?